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HANDLE WITH PRAYER
Unwrap the Source of God's Strength for Living
By Charles Stanley
David C. CookCopyright © 2011 Charles Stanley
All rights reserved.
Unveiling the Hidden
Moreover the word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah the second time, while he was yet shut up in the court of the prison, saying, Thus saith the Lord the maker thereof, the LORD that formed it, to establish it; the Lord is his name; Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not. —Jeremiah 33:1–3
As I was praying one afternoon in 1967, I began feeling as if God had something very specific to say to me. The more I prayed, the more the burden increased. I decided to take an early vacation and spend the time seeking God's guidance. I went to the mountains of North Carolina for two weeks, intent on finding out what God was saying to me.
I spent the majority of the time fasting and praying. I waited, expecting God to follow up the burden with an answer. To my surprise, He pointed out areas in my life that needed correcting. The entire two weeks was a period of personal cleansing and preparation for what was to come.
I returned home excited, but still unsure. It was as if there were a veil that kept me from knowing the unknown. I felt that the answer was close, but it was still out of my grasp. Then one afternoon soon afterward, I was on my face before the Lord, and the veil lifted. God wanted me to start a school. I hesitated to commit myself to such a task, but God made it clear to me that His instructions were to be obeyed, not just considered. He unveiled the hidden to me when I called on Him to do so, and He showed me the things I did not know. God was faithful—even to the point of preparing my heart for what He had to say.
God desires to make known the unknown to His children. He desires to unveil the hidden. Yet many times we are satisfied not knowing. Either we aren't willing to take the time to wait, or we aren't sure God even wants us to know. But this command to Jeremiah speaks specifically to both of these problems. We are to call, we are to expect an answer, and we are to know the unknown. Let's look at the background of this Scripture in Jeremiah (33:1–3).
The Babylonians are coming toward Jerusalem from the east. They have already defeated the Assyrians, so the people of Jerusalem know they don't stand much of a chance against their superior military strength. The leaders of Jerusalem believed they should align themselves with the Egyptians, which was the logical thing to do. But Jeremiah tells them, "God says you are going into captivity. What you really ought to do is go out there and surrender." Well, this wasn't at all what the leaders had in mind. They threw Jeremiah in prison and refused to listen to him.
Their reaction should not surprise us. What do you think the people in my congregation would do if I stood up next Sunday and said, "God says the Canadians are going to overthrow this nation. We might as well surrender now and save ourselves some trouble"? They would run me out of town! But this was exactly the situation Jeremiah found himself in. From his experience, he gives us a passage (33:1–3) that helps us understand how to talk with God.
Encouraged to Pray
We can obtain three prayer principles from Jeremiah 33:3 by listening to what God told Jeremiah. The first is that God encourages us to pray: "Call unto me." Since Jeremiah was in prison, he had a long time to catch up on his prayer life. We may never be put behind bars, but God will put us in circumstances and situations in order to teach us how to talk with Him.
Most of the time we pray, "Get me out of here!" We want to avoid suffering and difficulty. When we do run into a trial or difficulty, we ask God to change our circumstances so we can serve Him better and love Him more.
But we cannot fool God or bribe Him with our promises. Jeremiah didn't even ask God to get him out of prison. Rather, he waited to see what God would say to him. And what was God's reply? "Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not" (Jer. 33:3). What God did for Jeremiah had a far greater impact than simply getting him out of prison.
But most of us aren't that patient. We're more intent on getting out of our circumstances than we are on finding out what great things God wants to show us. But the Father never allows difficulty just for the sake of difficulty—there is always a higher purpose involved. The problem is we cannot always identify God's higher purpose in the midst of our trials. That's when we must exercise our faith by waiting on His word to us.
A good friend of mine who was a real estate broker experienced a seven-year period of financial failure. The loss of his security devastated him. It became the constant focus of his thoughts and prayers. "Why doesn't God do something?" he would ask me. For a while, we were both puzzled.
But after some intense soul searching, he realized that he had substituted financial security for God in his life. The Father wanted to be recognized as the Source of all things in my friend's life. As he began renewing his mind spiritually and yielding his rights to the Lord, my friend gained a new freedom in his attitude toward finances. He started a new career and found greater financial blessing than ever before.
God had a great and mighty lesson to teach my friend—a lesson more important than keeping him comfortable. And God kept him uncomfortable until he took his eyes off his circumstances and sought God's mind in the matter.
Waiting is not easy. We often turn away from seeking God's counsel and seek guidance from friends and loved ones. We read books, attend seminars, and talk with others, trying to find out what God has to say to us. Usually, after we've exhausted all other possibilities, we turn back to the Lord and wait on Him. By doing this, it's as if we are saying to God, "Now that I've tried everything else and failed, I've decided I need You after all."
But God wants us to come to Him first. He wants us to stand in His counsel and wait for His word. He longs for us to come to Him as a son would to his father. But instead, we go to Him last, as if we don't trust Him or consider His word of much value. Yet He is the only trustworthy Source of counsel we have. He is our most available and accessible Friend. He will never give us a busy signal—even if He frequently gets busy signals when He tries talking to us.
God entreats us to pray because He knows we are often caught in prisons of our own making; not prisons with bars and locks, but intellectual prisons, emotional prisons, and relational prisons. We must remember that the shortest distance between our problems and their solutions is the distance between our knees and the floor.
Second, God told Jeremiah, "I will answer thee." Sometimes we make commitments that we cannot keep. Though we may do this unintentionally, there are times when we disappoint those who are counting on us. But God never disappoints—when He says He will do something, it will be done.
God promises He will not only hear our prayers, but He will answer them. This brings up two interesting questions: Does God always answer our prayers? Or does He respond to certain kinds of prayer? Think about the requests you have made of God recently. Are they being answered? Do you really believe they will be? You see, the question is not Does God answer prayer? The real question is How does God answer prayer? Sometimes He answers yes. This is usually the only answer we hear. If God says, "Yes," then we believe He answered. If He says, "No," we think He ignored our request.
When God answers our prayers, He either answers with yes, no, or wait. When He answers yes, we are prone to shout, "Praise the Lord!" We tell everyone what a great thing God has done for us.
But when God says no, we have a hard time finding reasons to praise Him. We look for the sin in our lives that kept Him from granting our requests, because surely if we had been living right He would have given us what we asked. But not one shred of scriptural evidence shows that God will say yes to all of our prayers just because we're living right. God is sovereign. He has the right to say no according to His infinite wisdom, regardless of our goodness.
We try to manipulate God by our humanistic "if then" philosophy. If we live good, clean lives, then God must (we believe) grant our hearts' desires. But such attempts to manipulate God defeat the whole purpose of Christianity, which is to glorify Him through our submissive obedience to His desires. Besides, if our goodness was the only factor God considered, where would His grace fit in? Many times His grace is what motivates Him to say no.
God only says no and wait when it is best for us (Rom. 8:28). He does it many times for our protection. Sometimes God wants to answer our prayers, but the timing is not right. For example, in the past, many couples wanting to marry came to me for counseling. Sometimes I would advise them to wait. Some would heed my advice, while others sought counsel from those who told them what they wanted to hear. You and I have the same choice over and over again. Will we wait on God for His perfect timing, or will we rush ahead?
We don't like waiting around. Especially when it looks like a unique opportunity might slip away. We don't like to hear God say, "No," especially when everything in us says, "Yes, yes, yes!" We often try to find a Scripture verse and claim it while we continue our prayer, hoping somehow to change God's mind. What we're really saying is, "God, I didn't like that answer. How about reconsidering my point of view?"
But deep in our hearts we really want God's perfect will for our lives. And we must remember that God's answer is always His ultimate best for us. Claiming Scripture will not change God's mind because His Word cannot contradict His will. If He says no, then the answer is no. If He says wait, then we should wait. God is more interested in our character, our future, and our sanctification than He is in our momentary satisfaction. His answers are always an act of grace, motivated by His love.
Our response to God's answers reveals one of two things about us. It will reveal either a rebellious spirit or a submissive spirit. By accepting God's answer, despite the fact that we may not understand, we express a submissive spirit. But by refusing His first answer and trying to get our way by manipulation, we express a rebellious spirit.
If we refuse God's answers when they don't fit in with our plans, then we are trying to use God for our purposes. But if we graciously accept His answers—no matter what they are—He will use us for His glory.
The Hidden Revealed
The third principle we can obtain from this verse comes from "I will ... show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not." All of us face decisions that leave us baffled. We are constantly bombarded with relational decisions, business decisions, household decisions, and financial decisions—and these all need immediate attention. In this verse, God promises to reveal the answer to all of life's decisions. Yet many of God's people spend their entire lives making decisions based on their knowledge, their understanding, and their experience—not realizing that some decisions must be based on divine wisdom and illumination from God.
Almost any preacher can prepare a sermon. He can write an outline, gather a few stories, and away he goes. But a preacher cannot get God's message for a people until he waits in the Lord's counsel, until he seeks God's face, and until God gives him a word from heaven (Jer. 23:21–22).
This same principle applies to every Christian. We can pay the price required to find God's mind on an issue, or we can make a decision based on what we think is right. Either way, a decision will eventually be made. But while one decision may have the approval of man, the other will have the eternal approval of God.
Sometimes we flip a coin (spiritually speaking) and say, "Lord, this is what I'm going to do. If it is of You, then bless it. If I'm wrong, then better luck next time." Instead of waiting, we jump ahead and hope we have done the right thing. The point is this: As Christians, we never have to guess—we can know for sure what to do. God wants us to know His will about things, even more than we want to know it. But He cannot—and will not—bless anything we do that is not of Him.
So what does He mean when He says, "I will ... show thee great and mighty things"? Every time we pray to God, seeking His will, there are two things He wants to show us: He wants to show us Himself (Phil. 3:7–8), and He wants to show us what He is able to do (John 15:16). Is there anything greater than seeking God and knowing His power?
We Are to Seek His Face
Because God wants to reveal Himself to us, and because our goal as Christians is to know Him, we should begin our time in prayer saying, "Lord, thank You that You are omnipotent. Thank You that You are omniscient and know everything I am about to tell You. Thank You that You are omnipresent, and You are not separated from me. As I come into Your presence, I humble myself before Your throne to thank You for Your holiness, Your forgiveness, and Your mercy. I acknowledge You as the great Creator, Sustainer, and Lover of mankind. Father, I am coming to You, recognizing Your greatness and Your holiness. I bow before You as Your child, knowing that You are more than sufficient to meet my needs."
This is the spirit in which we should come into God's presence. But instead, we come first with our needs and usually don't have enough time for anything else. We never stop long enough to recognize that God wants to show us Himself when we pray.
He Shows Us His Power
God also wants to show us what He is able and willing to do for us. He does this through His Word. He reminds us of what He has done in the past. He gives us example after example in Scripture of how He met people's needs and how He protected them. And the Father is willing to do the same thing for us, if we will only ask.
The word mighty in this passage means hidden things, things that are fenced in. This word is used when referring to fortified cities. God is showing us that as we pray, He will unveil insights for us that have previously been a mystery.
This also implies that some answers will be found only in prayer, not from other sources—not from books, friends, or counselors. Some things must come straight from God, who is the Source of all wisdom. How many families would still be together today if they had sought God's answers to their problems at home? How many sons and daughters would still be at home if their parents had taken their situation to the Lord? Too often we refuse to wait on God's answers. We want quick solutions to our problems.
But God wants to do much more than just meet our needs and answer our questions. He wants our love. He wants our spirits—He wants our lives. Yes, He encourages us to bring our trials and our heartaches to Him in prayer, but only after we recognize who He is and what He can do. Only then do we believe He will answer our prayers. Only then are we seeking His face and not merely His hand.
As a pastor, many times I go to God for answers that can be found only in Him. Sometimes He shows me something for today, and sometimes He shows me something that will happen in the next week or month. But I've never been to God about anything that He did not willingly answer. He does not always answer my prayers according to my time schedule, but He always answers on time.
Back in 1969 when I was preaching a weeklong revival meeting in Virginia, I once again felt that God had something specific to say to me. Each night after the service I retired to my room early to pray. One evening, I pulled out a pad and drew a circle with five lines leading from it. At the end of each line, I wrote several things I thought God might desire to reveal to me. On the last line I drew a question mark, thinking maybe it was something I had not thought of.
The following night I came back to my room with the same burden. As I prayed and looked over the possibilities, God made it clear that He was going to move me. I asked Him when, and the month of September flashed into my mind. This happened in May of 1969, but I thought He meant September of 1970. A few months later, however, a pulpit committee from the First Baptist Church of Atlanta came to see me. On September 30, 1969, my family and I moved to Atlanta. God revealed this to me ahead of time in order to prepare my heart. He unveiled what was hidden when I called on Him to do so.
Regardless of what circumstances you are up against, there is no knowledge you will ever need that is not accessible before the throne of our living, loving, holy, righteous God. He has promised to show you the great, the hidden, and the unknown things that you will never be able to understand any other way. There are some things you will never be able to know (Deut. 29:29), but all the knowledge you will ever need is available to you if you ask God.
He desires to illuminate your mind and heart until you are conscious of Christ's mind within you. He wants you to say no to the world on the basis of your faith in Him. It is then that you feel an extra sense of power when you share with others. You no longer depend entirely on circumstances for God to teach you lessons. Instead, you learn straight from Him through His Word. You have a new excitement in your relationship with God because you have learned to listen as He speaks to you.
You must be submissive to God to the point of absolute obedience—regardless of what He asks of you. Why? Because if our heavenly Father continues to answer our prayers, and we have certain conditions on which we obey, then He is nothing more than a giant Santa Claus. If He were to continue to bless us regardless of our rebellion, we would be using Him for our ends, not His. Submission is essential.
If you have been seeking God's will for a long time and you seem to be getting nowhere, examine your heart. See if there is any area of your life that is not totally surrendered to Him. By settling this issue, you will put yourself in a position that will allow the Father to bless you. The quicker you move from your will to His will, the quicker God will show you what you need to know. Since God gives us His Word for obedience, not just consideration, He must be assured that you have submitted yourself completely before He will let you in on His secrets.
Excerpted from HANDLE WITH PRAYER by Charles Stanley. Copyright © 2011 Charles Stanley. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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